- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 9, 2003

The House took its first steps yesterday to renew federal higher education programs by passing two bills requiring more rigorous teacher training from colleges and more than tripling student loan forgiveness for future teachers.

A bill called The Ready to Teach Act, passed by a vote of 404-17, requires colleges of education that receive federal grants to measure the success of graduates by their ability to achieve gains in student achievement.

The requirement is intended to bring teacher colleges in compliance with requirements of President Bush’s No Child Left Behind school reform program, which requires a “highly qualified” teacher in every public school classroom by 2006, lawmakers said during House debate.

“For too long, colleges of education have focused too much on unproven pedagogy and not enough on what matters most — knowing their subject area,” said Lisa Graham Keegan, chief executive officer of Education Leaders Council, a coalition of reform-minded state school superintendents and commissioners, in a letter to House leaders.

In an interview yesterday, Mrs. Keegan said the reform legislation also recognizes alternative teacher certification for business executives, professionals and others who have not attended teacher colleges, through the American Board for Certification of Teacher Excellence.

“The most important thing about this bill is a national acknowledgement that we’re going to rely on innovations in teacher preparation instead of existing routes,” she said.

“The majority of colleges of education are not preparing the teachers we need … who deeply understand content and what it means to teach a child rather than stand by and watch them grow with good dispositions and so forth. There is a science to instruction.”

The bill requires college and university teaching programs receiving federal funds to produce teachers “highly qualified” in their core subjects, which is a key requirement of the No Child Left Behind Act passed in 2001.

By a vote of 417-7, the House also passed a second bill to forgive $17,500 of student loans for college students who become teachers in high-need areas — more than tripling the current loan forgiveness of $5,000 over five years.

The legislation is aimed at “the most critical need areas of math, science and special education,” said Rep. Joe Wilson, South Carolina Republican and principal sponsor. “There is a 95 percent critical shortage of qualified teachers in those areas.”

Congress wants to address the acute teacher shortage facing urban and rural schools, Mr. Wilson said.

According to the Education Department, two-thirds of public elementary, middle, and high schools had vacancies in special education in the 1999-2000 school year; 70 percent had vacancies in mathematics; 61 percent in biology and life sciences; and 51 percent in physical science.

“This bill will help to recruit teachers who want to teach in poverty-stricken areas,” Mr. Wilson said. “Philosophically, we’re interested in all of the children. We mean ‘leave no child behind,’ and that means having qualified teachers as well.”

Also under the bill, college loan forgiveness of $1,700 would be available to math, science and special education teachers in their second year at schools with 40 percent or more of their students from low-income families.

Teachers who serve five years at such schools eligible for Title I federal funds under the No Child Left Behind Act would receive $17,500 of college loan forgiveness by the end of their fifth year.

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